The impact of the Australian Black Summer Bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic on wellbeing in persons with multiple sclerosis; preparation for future and ongoing crises

Yvonne C. Learmonth, Assunta Hunter, Lisa Gibbs, Diana Walker, Allan G. Kermode, Claudia H. Marck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose: The Australian multiple sclerosis (MS) community experienced two recent major crises, widespread bushfires and the COVID 19 pandemic. We aimed to understand the needs of persons with MS during times of crisis. Materials and methods: A consumer-directed mixed-method study. We included an online survey, semi-structured interviews, and a workshop with persons with MS, carers, healthcare professionals, and disability advocates. Data were collected via: (1) 176 people completing online surveys to identify crisis concerns and communications, (2) 29 people completing online interviews on bushfire and pandemic impact, and (3) 13 people participating in a crises-priorities workshop. Descriptive data were calculated for survey response, and a general inductive analytical approach was taken with interview and workshop responses. Results: The most significant concerns were bushfire smoke exposure and disease-modifying-medication and susceptibility to COVID-19 (66% and 63% mean concern score, respectively). Interviews indicated crises experiences from the bushfires, and the pandemic overlapped respective of changes in mood and symptom stability. For bushfires, a need for future preparations, and for the pandemic, the benefits of social restrictions, disclosing personal health information and increased care burden were important. Conclusions: Multiple crises challenged the MS community but offered lessons for healthcare in future crises. Continued progress in centralised crisis information, with considered use of telehealth and rural healthcare support, is needed.Implications for rehabilitation The MS community showed high concerns for the effect of toxic smoke from the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires and, separately, for the disease-modifying-medication and susceptibility to COVID-19. The MS community placed priority on a crisis management plan for individuals. Reduced social activity due to restrictions was beneficial for MS symptom self-awareness and may help overall fatigue management. Healthcare system preparation must prepare to alleviate increased carer workload at times of crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Feb 2022

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